Cuties: Why this Movie Succeeded at Failing

I watched the movie Cuties this past week and I have a couple of thoughts on it, just like the rest of the world it seems like. I’ll start with a brief background on the movie and Director and then get into what I thought of the movie.

Cuties was released in France in August 2020 and in the United Stated in September 2020. It is a French coming-of-age comedy-drama film written and directed by French-Senegalese director Maïmouna Doucouré. The film won the Sundance Film Festival Award and is critically acclaimed! (emphasis on the critically). I should also mention the screenplay for Cuties won the Sundance Global Filmmaking Award back in 2017. The film is centered around 11 year-old Amy, a Senegalese-French pre-adolescent who is caught between her Senegalese culture and her life in France. She joins a group of young dancers who attend her school, after being bullied by them and trying to gain their approval. She introduces new, sexually explicit « dance moves » to the group after being influenced by music videos she sneaks around and watches on a phone she stole from her visiting cousin. This abrupt summary by no means does the movie justice. I just wanted to paint a quick picture of what the hell is going on here.

Now, a little bit about the director: Maïmouna Doucouré. As I mentioned above, she is a French-Senegalese film director and screenwriter living in France, where she was born in 1985. She had a successful experience with her film Maman(s), which premiered in 2015 and won Cesar Award in 2017. Cuties is her directional debut and let’s just say her name is becoming a household one. Her goals of female empowerment and embracing femininity are the underpinnings of her movies Maman(s) and Cuties. She delivered an emotional speech at the Sundance Film Festival upon winning, stating “ladies, just believe and we will become.”

Maimouna Doucoure speaks onstage during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival Awards Night Ceremony at Basin Recreation Field House on February 01, 2020 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Now, let’s take a look at the Netflix poster, right, that got everyone talking (which is different from the poster used in France, left).

See the source image

When Netflix started advertising for the film, released on September 9th, people were up in arms about the “pedobait” aspects of the trailer and poster. Petitions started coming from every angle, demanding the film be taken down from Netflix. When the film finally aired, the uproar exacerbated. The film garnered anger, disgust, and concern – to the point where Doucouré started receiving death threats! Death threats are unacceptable and hyperbolic. That being said, this post isn’t as much about Sundance or the success this movie’s gotten as it is about the missed mark on this film.

When I was watching this film, my jaw was on the floor half the time. I am not a prude. If you’ve read up on my blog stories, you’ll see that I am very open-minded and progressive in many ways. But this film definitely has a shock factor that is bound to keep you interested. It’s a different type of interested though – it’s cringe-y. You want to keep watching but you feel UNCOMFORTABLE. It’s disturbing. It’s shocking. It’s flagrant! And I believe that’s exactly what Doucouré wanted us to feel throughout, to get us thinking.

I watched it a second time before writing this piece. I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything. And here’s what I really think.

I feel like the film fell short. There are so many other themes that this film touches on. Immigration. Polygamy. Living in the projects. The influence of the media on today’s youth. Parent-children relationships. Importance of communication. Peer pressure. Sex Education. Generational perspective. Intersectionality of all of those things for a pre-teen that is trying to figure themselves/life out! I could go on and on about all the themes this film touches on and that’s exactly my point in this article. We are not talking about all of those things. We’re caught up on just one theme: the hyper-sexualization of young girls. This is a very important topic and should 100% be discussed. But the conversation is so much more nuanced than current conversations are letting on and I fervently believe Doucouré wanted us to have a complex discussion about it, not just a one-layered conversation or finger pointing.

Doucouré has said that Cuties pulls from her own experiences as a young, Black immigrant in Paris – paralleling her journey to that of the film’s protagonist, Amy. During her Sundance speech, Doucouré describes how a man made a comment after seeing her film Maman(s), stating that he was shocked a woman produced that movie. Doucouré emphasizes that it is a woman’s very femininity that allows her to be so powerful. The coming-of-age experience Amy goes through in the film touches on the theme of femininity and how it is influenced by her surroundings and the media. With Amy’s case, we see just how detrimental social media can be to a young girl’s development and that’s what Doucouré wanted us to talk about (in my humble opinion).

With the sexual dance moves in close range, I personally think the film focused on the wrong things. It gave us too much at once and left us wondering. I don’t buy into the “this film encourages pedophiles” mantra because pedophiles are sick in the head and we cannot put the blame or responsibility on anybody else. They need to get help for the illness they are dealing with. Point blank. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that American producer, writer, and director Sterling Van Wagenen, co-founder of Sundance, was convicted of child sexual abuse and sentenced to six years to life in prison in 2019. This just adds fuel to the fire and people are using it as ammo for the pedophile argument. But BUT, this film was not made for the viewing pleasures of pedophiles with a Netflix account. It was made to give us a reality check, a wake up call, to what is happening to young girls around the world. This movie is a warning call to all parents to check themselves on the following: (1) you can’t raise your kids the way you were raised. (Un)fortunately, times have changed so it’s time to adapt. And (2) communicating with your children is important, more than ever! You have to be a vital part of your children’s development because the outside sure it.

The sex trafficking of young girls a major concern worldwide. The hyper-sexualization of young girls is rampant. The negative influence of social media is a cause of concern for every parent, every big sister, every big brother. Because this film touched on those things, I would give it a 10/10 for intent. But because all people seem to talk about is the obscene dance moves, I am inclined to say the movie failed on execution. 4/10.

September: Suicide Prevention Month

Let’s remember to be kind, gente, and compassionate towards people around us. We are all dealing with something, battling some demons, trying to get by. A little kindness goes a long way.

Mental health remains a priority, especially during these challenging times. The CDC reports that every 11 minutes, someone dies by suicide. Every. 11. Minutes. Knowing the warning signs can be crucial to saving someone’s life!

Resources to help:

National Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://afsp.org

The Jason Foundation: https://jasonfoundation.com/get-involved/suicide-prevention-month/

Warning signs (according to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website):

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

It takes courage to step up and help someone. Often times, the call for help is not verbal. It’s important to remain vigilant of those around us and if we need help, call the prevention hotline for guidance on how to proceed.

A letter I wrote To Myself 5 years Ago

5 Years Ago

I have great qualities. I care so much about people and if it were up to me, everyone would get what they want in life, myself included. However, that is not realistic. Especially not in my case. I tend to forget about my wishes trying to make sure that other people around me have what they need. It’s not easy. And at times, it transgresses the borders of selflessness and enters the territory of neglect. I don’t always care if I am happy – I always figure things out. As long as others are okay, I somehow convince myself that that’s what’s best. Most of the time, that’s true but sometimes, I lay in my bed, cry, and think that I could have fought a little harder for what I wanted.

This is me. It has jagged lines and that’s intentional. I’m not really sure how to begin to explain what I feel; I get stuck. I get lost and discouraged at times because I have pure intentions but I don’t always act on them. I have an intense desire to leave all things better than I found them. That sometimes puts me in contradicting and hypocritical scenarios. I feel guilty and like a monster for my behavior. I want to be a good person, I really do. But I make mistakes…so many of them. I look back far too often. I take steps forward and bring my past with me. Help.

Today

When I read this, I just smirked. I haven’t changed one bit. I love helping people. It’s in my blood and I have just come to accept it. I have just learned to be smarter about it. Be more selective so I don’t end up with the short end of the stick every time. I advise everyone to do the same. Look out for your best interest, serve others, and be pragmatic.

Oh and if you’re still thinking, I still need help. Always. 🙂

“I may destroy You” – the breath of fresh air we needed

I recently finished watching I May Destroy You on HBO Max and all I can say is WOW. Michaela Coel is a genius for this show and for so many reasons. I had to make a post dedicated to this masterpiece, especially since my viewing of the finale coincides with my latest YouTube episode about rape (in Wolof; link below for your convenience). Let me start off by saying that I May Destroy You is about so much more than rape. Ugh let’s just get into it.

***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD***

Consent

The show tackles consent in many ways. There are multiple relationships that we can use as examples in dissecting this concept. If we take the relationship of the protagonist Arabella and her Italian beau, Biagio, we see their first sexual encounter rely heavily on their mutual consent. Arabella is on her period and after she expresses it, Biagio lets her know that he doesn’t mind (expressing consent for having period sex). When they actually attempt it, Biagio asks Arabella if it’s okay if he removes her tampon for her. It may seem like a trivial example but it’s important to call out. Consent matters in every situation between two people!

Let’s take another example between Kwame, Arabella and Terry’s best friend, who is sexually assaulted AFTER a consensual sexual encounter with a dating app hookup. Kwame gives consent one time and then doesn’t give consent for a second time with this pompous man who neglects his denial and assaults him anyway. Consent is a one-time-use ticket and thus, is required for every act!

We also have the scene where Arabella’s best friend, Terry, has a night out in Italy during a creative writing trip to inspire Aabella’s writing. While out, Terry meets two strangers and takes them home for a threesome. When all is said and done and they’re leaving, Terry sees them walking side by side, headed in the same direction, and talking it up … as if it wasn’t the first time they met…or did something like this. This strips all notions of enjoyment/liberation from Terry as she realizes she’s been duped. She’s been roped into this situation under false pretenses and that negates any consent she gave. Blurred lines some say.

One last relationship I’d like to highlight is the infamous condom removal scene between Arabella and her fellow writer, Zain. During an otherwise consensual sexual encounter, Zain removes the condom he had on, without Arabella’s … you guessed it, consent (this is known as stealthing in the UK, btw). She did not know he removed the condom until after the encounter and it completely traumatized Arabella (and me to be honest) because that’s quite frankly considered rape. Even in the middle of consensual sexual interactions, any and all new acts require consent.

I read into things a lot and noticed consent even in non-sexual situations. When Arabella stops smoking and drinking to help her cope with her sexual assault, a simple question asking her if she’d like a smoke or a drink is important instead of just assuming she’d like it. Overall, the show tackles consent in a very dynamic way, leading us to think deep. The show has soooo many examples, at every corner of every episode. I will just urge you all to watch the entire series. No excuses.

Frienship

“Your birth is my birth. Your death is my death.” This is the ride-or-die motto of protagonist Arabella and Terry. Throughout the season, we see their friendship in many lights. From the highs, figuratively and literally, of walking the streets of Italy and enjoying a day of promenade to the intense encounter where Arabella confronts Terry about giving their friend Simon the green light to leave Arabella alone the night she was raped. The complicity of their relationship can also be seen in the flashbacks of the younger Arabella and Terry in high school. When a black male student was accused by a white female student of rape (which was a whole tangent all on its own), Arabella and Terry were the ones who hyped each other up, to the point where Arabella denounced the girl. They have always stood side-by-side, no matter the situation and that’s quite admirable.

Another friendship dynamic that I found interesting was that of Arabella and Simon, her male friend that convinced her to come out when she had a draft for her book due the next day. Simon is married and Arabella knows his wife. Nonetheless, Arabella “covers” for Simon when she meets his mistress (who, by the way, showed up earlier as a stranger to Simon, under the guise as someone Simon’s wife found for them to have a threesome with. Simon already knew her… just watch the show! It’s THAT good). Anyways, back on topic. So Arabella turns a blind eye to Simon’s secret affair and while I don’t condone that, I find that noble that they have a close enough relationship to withstand the trials and tribulations of life. So much so that even though Simon was the one who left Arabella alone on the night she was raped, she reconciled with him in Episode 10, letting bygones by bygones. That takes strength.

Dealing with Sexual Assault

When I first heard about the show, I thought Arabella would be a total hot mess after being raped. And don’t get me wrong, she was (is) distraught and definitely had her fair share of meltdowns. The back-and-forth trips to the police station, her staggered memory of the events that night, her blowup towards Kwame at a paint-and-sip event her therapy sessions that sometimes were, and sometimes weren’t helpful to her recovery. But one thing the show did an incredible job with was showing us how Arabella “moved on” after the assault. She wasn’t confined to her room, wallowing in depression, rejecting the whole world. Instead, we see how this assault impacts her life in other ways. Her demeanor changes frequently. At some point, she works at a vegan charity where I personally saw she was quickly spiraling. She was doing it for the money but then she started to gain publicity as the black girl of this vegan brand who spoke her mind about sexual abuse. She sort of runs with this social media newfound attention, causing her to neglect her needs in dealing with the societal pressures and expectations around her.

Arabella continues for the next year without telling her family about the assault, something that is almost out-of-sight, out-of-mind for the viewer because we don’t meet her family until Episode 10. She finally reveals the truth to her mother after walking out of the dinner conversation as her dad tells the story of being robbed back in the day (during this flashblack, we learn it was Arabella that snuck in through the window earlier and left it open) and then returns to the table with her mother as if nothing had happened. Her life after the assault is a pendulum of event after event, testing her and pushing her to finally confront her aggressor when her memory of the assault comes back.

Gray Areas

This show is ALL about gray areas. It leaves you thinking “wait, what just happened?” so many times that you have no choice but to be in shock! It’s provocative, it’s intense, it’s messy, it’s blurred, and it’s raw. Michaela does not hold back; we’re forced to confront the ugly nature of sex, consent, and assault in 12 intoxicating episodes. Each episode paints a vibrant picture. Each episode reels us in and forces us to rethink our own lives as these scenarios are all too familiar… all too real.

The concept of gray areas seem straightforward. The opposite of black and white, right? Well, yes and yes. I May Destroy You presents a well thought-out, carefully crafted, and stark representation of the reality of sexual assault and consent. It’s complex, compelling, and nuanced. All I can say is WOW. Please watch this show. Multiple times. And really think about it. I loved Arabella’s monologue where she talks about predators who operate in this gray area – it perfectly encapsulates this entire show.

Kudos to the entire team and thank you for this masterpiece! #IMDY

Soda, my sister

**An open letter to my baby sister (who’s not much of a baby anymore)**

Hey girl,

I want to share some life lessons with you today. Not because I know it all. And certainly not because I have got this life figured out. But because I want to shed some light on a few things so you can have a few more things in your toolbox as you figure out what life is FOR YOU.

I’ll start there – FOR YOU. Everything I am saying in this letter is just s preface to what’s really out there. We’re barely scratching the surface girl because let me tell you, it’s hard and will only get harder the older you grow. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer or live a “hard” life. It just means you have to figure out how to live your life the way that works for you, without stepping on others’ toes or your own. I’m going to give you a few secrets I’ve learned along the way that have worked FOR ME. Reflect on them and see how they apply, or don’t apply, TO YOU.

  1. Be kind: That goes for others and for yourself. There’s a lot of ugly in this world and sometimes, we just have to stop, humble ourselves, and realize we don’t know the full story for anything! When faced with the option to be hard, be soft. This won’t always be easy – and sometimes, it actually may seem impossible. But try. Try to put yourself in the shoes of others and see if you can’t change your perspective. That goes for you too. Be kind and patient with yourself.
  2. Stand up for yourself: Life is full of bullies. People. Work. School. Family. Circumstances. Situations. Obstacles. There will always be something to make you pause and think “am I good enough”? But don’t let that deter you from going after what you want. Stand up and show up for yourself. Go after what you want!
  3. Have respect: for everyone.
  4. Be smart: If there is anything I’ve learned in this life, it’s that you are free to do what you want, but you are not free from the consequences of your actions. Every. single. thing you do has consequences. Take the time to analyze situations and weigh out the pros and cons. Make smart decisions and be ready to confront the outcomes they yield. Don’t be naive, and especially don’t forget to take accountability for your actions.
  5. No one owes you anything: This may be hard to accept or believe but it’s true. The good news is that most people are well-intended and aren’t set out to make your life miserable. But not everyone. Remember the bullies? Yeah, get comfortable with that and don’t take everything seriously. At the end of the day, you owe yourself the happiness, success, respect, and whatever else you desire, that you think you deserve.
  6. Have a plan: Life will throw many things at you. Have a plan. A plan that is structured and realistic but also responsive. Not everything will always go according to plan but a guide is always good. Follow your dreams.
  7. Family first: Ironic that I say family first yet it’s the last statement. It’s intentional. I am putting this at the bottom so it’s fresh in your memory as you finish off this letter. I am not sure about other families but the one you’ve got, yeah, it’s a good one. Not perfect but they love you and want the best for you. Even when the lesson may seem hard and the test may seem impossible, the final grade is always an A. Remember that.

I can ramble on and on about life lessons but the bottom line is…well, I’m your big sister so I can always send more via text message or over a phone call! And that’s exactly the point I want to drive home. Use me, and others who have been a positive addition to your life, as much or as little as you’d like as you figure out what you want your life to look like. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and be quick to recognize what isn’t going well and aim to fix it.

The truth is, none of us really know what’s going on. We’re figuring it out day by day. Don’t let the Internet fool you. There is no filter for life. No song you can really add to set the mood. And certainly not enough scrolling in the world to make bad things go away. But you can tag your loved ones to go on the journey with you, slide in the DMs of those who will give you sound advice to overcome anything, and best of all, pin the beautiful moments you’ll take into adulthood with you so you can reflect, and hopefully, be proud of the life you’ve built.

One of my favorite quotes is from a book called Reclaim Your Heart by Yasmin Mogahed. It goes: How do we become strong, without being hard, and remain soft, without being weak? While not easy, I try to make this my goal in life. I recommend the book, it’s available online 🙂

Xoxo,

Aissatou ❤

P.S. Don’t be afraid to cry.

The Brave Women fighting FGM

I remember in college I had a term-paper that I procrastinated on for weeks and weeks. The day before it was due, I started it… I know, bad decision-making. I knew what the topic would be and I met every deadline prior to the due date: topic submission, argument and main points, and even my sources to be used. I just didn’t do the actual essay until the night before and I ended up spilling out my passion about female genital mutilation (FGM). It’s a daunting topic and I was filled with rage when I read through my sources and did online research – the more I learned, the more upset I became. It’s a topic near and dear to me, even though I never experienced it or came face-to-face with it. To accompany my research and opinions, I wanted to interview someone who was a little more familiar with it. Keep on reading to hear about Bintou and her experience with FGM.

**Hey girl! Can you give us a little intro… who is Bintou?**

I am recently married, living in Cincinnati, OH. My dad is from Mali and my mom is from Ivory Coast. I was born in the Bronx, NY, raised in Cincinnati. I’ve been to Mali once in 2014 (I’ll talk a little bit more about that experience later on). I am the oldest of 7, with another on the way (welcome to African households haha). Currently, I am going to school for International Relations and running own lip care brand.

A little bit about my family’s background, specifically my mom. She was the youngest and none of the girls in her family went to school because they were told being educated is not good. When she could actually go to school, she was 11 in the midst of a lot of little kids so she just stopped going. That kind of dynamic, not just restricted to my mother but Africans overall, contributes to a lot of the beliefs they grow up with.

**What was your first introduction to FGM?**

The topic first came in 2014 when I went to Mali with my mom. One of oldest cousins asked my mom if she had circumcised her girls. She tried to convince her that she could do it but my mom refused (logical reasons as we were too old, check ups with doctors when we’re back in the US, etc.). This made me upset because I was 15 – imagine someone cutting your clitoris off at 15! The sad thing is a lot my fiends that grew up in Africa underwent this procedure and they tell me about how terrible it is and it was against their will. It was nothing new to me but I put it in the back of my mind. It’s just a reality – like my friends tell me about their experiences and how they can’t feel pleasure during intercourse.

**What do you think some of the negative impacts of this practice are?**

This practice is generally against your will (violation of human rights). There is psychological trauma associated; a friend of mine was cut at age 10 even though she was born here and when she came back from Mali, it just impacted her negatively, she was having trouble using the bathroom and other hygienic issues. Overall, the consequences of FGM are life-long and far-reaching. It’s a practice imposed on young girls and the decision of someone else is what they have to live with for the rest of their lives.

**What can we do to educate folks and eradicate this transition?**

A lot of the women back home are not properly educated – they’re not going out to look for their own information – even religion, they were just taught and it usually came from men – the narrative is like "you do this or you go to hell." – they don’t know their rights or their worth. There is a lack of education.

FGM is a practice that’s still very prevalent back home. There are groups trying to eradicate, mainly feminists and non-profit organizations fighting for regulations around it are making it stricter – but it’s definitely still happening in the villages – women in villages only really go to hospital during childbirth so it’s hard to know what they’re up to.

I think the First Ladies of our countries should take a stance as women are primarily the victims. The problem is that the policies are not there for the people, they only serve the interest of the people in positions of power. In my opinion, one way to reach people could be through commercials; they are a good way to get information to people. What’s needed is education and awareness. This might seem trivial but Whatsapp is huge and a great tool we could leverage. A lot of our African parents use this application and the same way people stopped using Maggi/Jumbo spices due to alerts and warnings, we can do the same for FGM.

————-

I want to thank Bintou for her time and for sharing her experience with us! FGM is not an easy subject to talk about and there’s always another story to be heard, unfortunately. Below, are the stories of women fighting against FGM as well as some facts about FGM. Happy Reading!

Their Stories

Mariama Djarama Jo: Senegal

Mariama is a community social worker and activist. She comes from a family of circumcisers, and is a victim of FGM herself. She has decided to not cut her daughters and is convincing others in her community to do the same. FGM is banned in Senegal but is still practiced in Senegal, particularly in the South (Up to 85 percent of women and girls have undergone FGM).

Purity Soinato Oiyie,”The First of Her Kind”: Kenya

Purity was set to be circumcised at the age of 10/11, a decision made by her father. She was also set to become a fifth wive to a 70 year old man. After informing her teacher, who informed the policy, Purity was taken away just hours before her ceremony. She was the first girl in her village to say no to this dangerous practice. During her 8 year stay at a rescue center in Narok Town, Kenya, her mother suffered abuse at the hands of her father, who blamed her for the escape of their daughter. She has since set up a foundation called Silan, aimed at educating young girls, and boys, about the dangers of FGM and empowering everyone to say “NO!” Purity says that women “do not have to beg for women’s rights. Being women, we deserve this right. It’s ours.”

Jaha Dukureh: The Gambia

Renowned activist, UN Women Ambassador for Africa, a mother and a survivor of FGM. Jaha traveled to NYC at the age of 15 to marry a man she had never met before. She went through Type 3 FGM (see the types in the facts section). Jaha has had a long journey of speaking out against FGM, taking a stance to not cut her daughters, and even contributing to the legislation passed by her birth country to ban FGM practices.

Elizabeth Thomas Mniko, Safe in Serengeti: Tanzania

“After the December rains on even numbered years, traditional leaders and village elders gather to consult traditional circumcisers called Ngaribas and their gods on the best date to do the cuts.” At the tender age of 17, Elizabeth takes extra classes and serves as the Head Girl at the safe house in Serengeti, Tanzania, where she fled to escape FGM. She wishes to become a lawyer one day so she can speak on behalf of all victims of FGM and prevent new cases. She recognizes the immense strength and bravery it takes to “leave your entire world behind” and that is what fuels her every day to make a difference in the lives of young girls just like her.

Go Elizabeth!!

———

Facts about FGM

Prevalence:

  • More than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM.
  • An estimated 3 million girls are still at risk, every single year.
  • The majority of girls are cut before they turn 15 years old.

Types:

The type of procedure performed also varies, mainly with ethnicity. Current estimates (from surveys of women older than 15 years old) indicate that around 90% of female genital mutilation cases include either

  • Types I: mainly clitoridectomy (surgical removal, reduction, or partial removal of the clitoris)
  • Type II: Excision
  • Type III: Infibulation (makes up about 10% or 8 million women). This is the most severe form of FGM and is mostly practiced in the north-eastern region of Africa.
  • Type IV: Nicking without flesh removed

Repercussions:

No health benefits, only harm!!!

It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.

Immediate complications can include: 

  • severe pain
  • excessive bleeding (haemorrhage)
  • genital tissue swelling
  • fever
  • infections e.g., tetanus
  • urinary problems
  • wound healing problems
  • injury to surrounding genital tissue
  • shock
  • death.

Long-term consequences can include:

  • urinary problems (painful urination, urinary tract infections);
  • vaginal problems (discharge, itching, bacterial vaginosis and other infections);
  • menstrual problems (painful menstruations, difficulty in passing menstrual blood, etc.);
  • scar tissue and keloid;
  • sexual problems (pain during intercourse, decreased satisfaction, etc.);
  • increased risk of childbirth complications (difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, caesarean section, need to resuscitate the baby, etc.) and newborn deaths; 
  • need for later surgeries: for example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth (deinfibulation). Sometimes genital tissue is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing both immediate and long-term risks;
  • psychological problems (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, etc.);
  • health complications of female genital mutilation.

Cultural and social factors for performing FGM

The reasons why female genital mutilations are performed vary from one region to another as well as over time, and include a mix of sociocultural factors within families and communities. The most commonly cited reasons are:

  • The fear of not conforming – these are cases where FGM is considered the social norm. In these communities, FGM is almost universally performed and unquestioned. 
  • FGM being considered one of the paths to womanhood and preparation for marriage.
  • Ensuring premarital virginity and marital fidelity. Reduce libido!
  • Increases marriageability.
  • FGM associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are clean and beautiful after removal of body parts that are considered unclean, unfeminine or male. 
  • Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support. 

Sources

World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/prevalence/en/

Survivors speak: Women leading the movement to end FGM https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2019/2/compilation-women-leading-the-movement-to-end-female-genital-mutilation

MOUTAROU (guest writer)

***Unlike the other stories in the men’s series, this story is real. I’d personally like to thank our very own Moutarou for sharing his personal story.***

In Senegal there is a lot of social pressure.  Practically everyone throughout the country faces this phenomenon, women as well as men.

As for the effect on me, I am the eldest male in the family, which gives me the status of breadwinner. In Senegal, most of the time families are large, which means that children are often called upon to provide support to help meet the needs of their families. I am in this situation since I am the first boy, even though I have two older sisters. Woman in the family are meant to get married and leave the compound, they are not expected to be breadwinners. Nevertheless, it is changing given that women are now supporting their own families. So, I need to support my family because my father is older now and II am the only one with a decent job. Thus, there is an obligation to give the daily expenditure and to assure the other family needs are met, such as the education of my siblings and the needs of both my parents.

I started feeling this pressure when I was 23 and I was in College.  It was a strong pressure and I had to ensure that the family lacked for nothing.  This burden over my head was so heavy that it had consequences in all areas of my life.  I had to succeed in my studies to prepare for a good job that would satisfy me and enable me to support my family.

Since there were a lot of strikes at the university, I could not afford to miss the deadline, so I left school to look for work to help my father. Consequently, I could not really choose what I wanted in my life, I just had to find a job regardless of the salary.  In some ways, my life choices did not really count because my duty was to help the family, whatever the sacrifice to my own life.  The whole family expected my success to be effective in bringing food to the table, in allowing everyone to have an education, and in ensuring the good health of everyone.  So far so good, the family does not lack for anything, but there is a part of me that does not live the life he would have liked to live.  But it’s life, it’s Senegal, it’s like that.

What’s odd about all this is that my dad pushed me all the time to get married very early, at the same time wanting me to support him in his own family.  For me, the two could not go together because – if I had married as he wanted – I would not have been able to help him suitably since I would have had a wife to feed and maybe children to support.  But my father could not see that and said that only God knows what’s in front of us.  That is true but, at the same time, the human being proposes, God disposes.

Another pressure I endured for a long time, and continue to suffer from, is to get married.  My dad wanted me to marry at the age of 24.  He wanted me to marry a girl I did not know and had never seen in my life.  He still keeps putting pressure on me since I came out of a marriage with an American woman that he did not accept at all because – for him – to marry a woman who is not Fulani is as if I am still not married.  Even when I had my American wife, he always kept telling me to get married.  I laughed and I said yes, soon.  He did not stop pressuring me and he always reminded me of my duties as a Muslim and, especially, as a man and elder of the family.  He wanted me to show a positive example to my brothers who came after me.  At first, he told me that I had to marry a Fulani woman like me from my family, meaning a cousin of mine.  Then, since I did not follow, he changed tactics, telling me to look only for a Muslim girl   Finally, he told me that it would not bother him if the girl was not Fulani but a Muslim from a good family. 

He reminded me every time I saw him. Since I lived in Dakar and only visited Thies my hometown once a month, he did not hesitate to put pressure on me to marry. Since today, I live with this burden and social pressure. I think, we need to change the way we make babies and think about their future too. 

AIDA: A special self-reflection – « Jigéén dafa wara doxe ndank, waxe ndank » (A woman should not speak much)

My personality is strong. I don’t filter my thoughts and freely deliver my opinions as I see fit. I’m not ignorant or disrespectful; but I am confident and I am stern. I have been guided numerous times on how to “soften” myself up, especially if I want to find a good man to marry. Let me start by saying that I would love to get married. I have always wanted to have a family of my own – a loving husband and beautiful children all around the house. And I feel like I still have time; I’m 26 years old. By Senegalese standards, that’s old. Most of my friends are getting married and having kids and it’s not that I don’t want that for myself. But it’s something that cannot be anticipated or forced. As cliché as it may sound, it will happen when the time is right. It honestly makes my eye twitch that I’ve gone down that rabbit hole.

Let me start over. My name is Aissatou but some call me Aida. I go by either or…no preference really. I am the oldest girl in a family of mom, dad, and five children. I have an older brother, two younger sisters, and one younger brother. I grew up in a household where you respect your elders, do as you’re told, and don’t pushback. It worked growing up but at some point in time, I started to go against the current. Not out of disrespect but out of curiosity for what else was possible and genuine belief that I was doing the right thing. I had big dreams and they were fluid – wanting to become a psychologist, gynecologist, lawyer, and business woman all at different points in time. I made the first step towards whatever the goal was at the time when I graduated High School to attend Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. My mom was hesitant about me going away for college and not living at home. This wasn’t typical. But I pushed through and two years later, my sister joined me at Miami where we kept each other company but each flourished in our own ways. That leads me to the next point of having the goal of setting an example for young women on what they could achieve with a little bit of direction and a lot of hard work. I’m by no means the epitome of success – I just strive for excellence, push the envelope a little, and encourage other young girls to do the same.

“Jigeen dafa wara doxe ndank, waxe ndank” translate to “a woman should walk slowly/light, speak softly” in Wolof. In other words, a women should be poised and quiet. I’ll spend a few moments talking about the positive aspects of this phrase but really spend some time dissecting why this phrase, like many others in this series, can be at the detriment of young girls’ empowerment and confidence.

In short, I think this phrase touches on the basic premise of how femininity is praised in Senegalese culture. “Saf djiguen” is another term that could be loosely coupled – meaning having that “feminine flavor.” It aims to emphasize that women are softer, more gentle than our male counterparts and as such, we should act accordingly. It is commendable – I think our femininity as women is one of our greatest assets and it leads me to the “negative” analysis I want to explore.

Being that our femininity is one of our greatest assets, I don’t think it should be tamed. It should be let free and encouraged to compliment other traits that don’t necessarily fall in line with molds that make us smaller, quieter, more obedient. This phrase ring-fences us in and prohibits us from straying too far. The way we act is tightly controlled so we don’t talk back, ask questions, or challenge the status quo. I believe the freedom should be there to be that quiet, soft-spoken woman or that outspoken and provocative woman or that walk in a room and everyone pays attention woman or whatever fits with the personality of the individual. The key here being that society should not prescribe how any one of us, man or woman, but especially women, should act. That defeats the very freedom we all hold near and dear to us.

I can be loud and chatty. I can be reserved and pensive. I can walk fast because I’ve got somewhere or nowhere to be. I can stroll down the street admiring my views. I can travel the world and get a different perspective on life. I can hide out in my room and listen to old-school music to find my center of gravity after a long day. I can choose to do what I want. I can be accountable for my own decisions and actions. I can choose. As a woman. Because I’m a woman.

First Series: Jigéén dafa wara…

In English

Growing up in a Senegalese household, I heard the phrase “jigéén dafa wara…” countless times. It was always followed by some rule and some adage that bounded women to some sort of characteristic. It translates to “a woman should…” There is an endless list of behaviors that a woman should act in accordance to and this book delves into seven of those them through the stories of six women. It is not by any means an exhaustive list; it’s merely a collection of anecdotes, experiences, and stories I’ve and many other women have encountered in this life. These stories are fictional, inspired by life-like events. In sharing them with you, I hope to shed some light on some of the struggles women in the Senegalese cultures (and other cultures as well) all over the world face. I, myself, have lived through some of these and write this collection under the optimistic assumption that it will help someone out there persevere and overcome the sexist, misogynist, and patriarchal discrimination against women, regardless of age, culture or color.

Let me add that this is not a “I hate men” series. In the spirit of female empowerment, I will not explain myself. That is all.

Note: after the “Djiguen dafa wara” series, there will be new content to ensure the conversation continues!

En français

Ayant grandi dans une famille sénégalaise, j’avais l’habitude d’entendre cette phrase “Jigéén Dafa Wara …” d’innombrables fois. Elle a toujours été suivie par une règle et un certain adage qui délimitait les femmes à une sorte de caractéristique. Cela se traduit par “une femme devrait…” Il existe une liste interminable de comportements auxquels une femme devrait se conformer, et ce livre aborde sept d’entre eux. Ce n’est en aucun cas une liste exhaustive ; c’est simplement une collection d’anecdotes, d’expériences et de récits que j’ai vécus et ainsi que beaucoup d’autres femmes dans cette vie. En les partageant avec vous, j’espère apporter des éclaircissements sur certaines des difficultés rencontrées par les femmes dans les cultures sénégalaises (et d’autres cultures) à travers le monde entier. J’ai moi-même vécu certaines de ces expériences et j’ai rédigé cette collection en partant du principe optimiste qu’elle aidera quelqu’un à persévérer et à vaincre les discriminations sexistes, misogynes et patriarcales à l’égard des femmes, quels que soient leur âge, culture et couleur de peau.

Permettez-moi d’ajouter que ce n’est pas un serie de “Je déteste les hommes”. Dans l’esprit de l’autonomisation des femmes, je ne m’expliquerai pas. Voilà c’est tout pour le moment. 

Note: Après la série “Djiguen dafa wara”, il y aura un nouveau contenu pour que la conversation se poursuive!



Guest Writer, a short story by ARAME

Harlem post-renaissance, pre-gentrification. When black people sat on the stoops of the brownstones they owned. When the chips were 25 cents and the bus fare 2 dollars. When there was block parties with smokey grills and a broken hydrant. I was born one summer in 1994 on a Thursday. I figured out Thursday when I went to Ghana and learned about Akan names. I am Yaa, a female Thursday born. 

God placed me in a Senegalese family who came to the U.S. just a few years before me.

They named me Arame. Say it Ah rahm. I think it means wise, deriving from the Wolof word yaaram. I might be lying but it sounds reasonable. 

Two more humans joined the family over the years. And we grew up together. With Senegalese heritage in America. I can write a book about our lives and experiences. I think Americanah is a piece of fiction that would be in the same section of the bookstore as my book. The “Africans in America” section. The “first generation” section. The “all my life I had to fight immigration to legalize my parents” section. But I do not want to write the book now because I am currently living through a major plot line and perhaps when it has passed and I have dealt with the trauma I can put it in text. For now, here are some bullet points:

  • I am not African American. Living in Harlem a good chunk of my life and learning about the American American legacy in this country, I realized how white supremacy lumps all black folx together to erase our histories. I am African. I am American and I benefit from the civil rights movement. The 60s helped my parents come to America black. Though we have a nasty history with the red, white and blue, it is the one with baguettes in Europe.
  • Sometimes I daydream about living a whole life in Senegal full-time.  But I hate dressing up and putting on makeup, cooking with the infertility spice (I mean Maggi), being in large gatherings (I have anxiety), and eating thiebou Jenn like it’s a food group.
  • Sometimes I daydream about living a whole life in Senegal full-time. I dream of having accessibility to some of the best tailors on the planet, sitting by the Atlantic after a casual stroll, going to a Youssou Ndour concert at Cices, and eating dibi like it’s a good group. 
  • The hardest academic assignment I ever had was to write a political history essay in Wolof. Essay question: “How can we use the lessons from the epic of Sundiata as a tool to address the problems of current African politics.” My thesis: Democracy did not exist in Africa post-colonization. It existed and was briefly interrupted. Once we disassociate democracy as a foreign tool post-oppression and associate it as an indigenous reality maybe our leaders will stop wearing suits and leading convenings in Français.
  • My parents don’t really know the weight of my accomplishments they are just really happy that I am not a scammer.
  • There is a whole market in Cape Town, South Africa with Senegalese vendors. I bought a bucket hat there and earrings from a dude named Ibrahima. I also randomly sat next to a Senegalese guy in a tro tro in Accra. And Malick cuts hair for the Africans in Bangkok. 
  • I didn’t like soup kandja growing up but now I love it. Try it with smoked turkey.
  • All I know is my able bodied family members in Senegal will not be getting any donations from me. Stop the generational yonni’ing. I might draft a petty graphic explaining who can ask me for money and for what purposes.
  • I sometimes think about how I will raise a baby Arame. Do I predetermine their identity and sculpt their experiences in youth so they can have the proper percentages of Senegalese and American. Or?
  • No shade, every Senegalese person- in the homeland and abroad needs therapy. The compounded trauma from Occupation and migration runs deep. 
  • “Lou metti yagoul.” Literal translation: what is hard is not long. Fancy translation: adversity is short lived. I remember some hardships in 30 second memories even though they actually occurred over months.
  • Senegalese men are so handsome but their toxic masculinity is like pineapple on pizza. 
  • Senegalese women. 
  • ^Senegalese women get their own bullet point because.